Improving on the competition, not yourself

As a postscript to my thoughts on what the general election can teach a successful sales and marketing campaign, it’s worth looking at what the losing political parties are doing now. “We need to change”, they all cry. But then they just look at their own product, and see what it was about it that the customers didn’t buy into. None of the prospective new leaders of the losing political parties will be heard saying: “Well, the winners offered something else, and the electorate obviously wanted it, so we should offer that too, but with our own spin on it”. Instead, listen to one after another saying: “This is what we offered, the country didn’t like it, so here’s how I’m going to package the same thing in a different way”.

This introspective approach is an epic failure which occurs in businesses all of the time. It’s all me, me, me. If your customers are choosing a competitive product, or even no product at all, you need to investigate why they’re making that choice, and to see if you can do better. Unfortunately, the default position of most sales and marketing people is to analyse the competition only in terms of its weaknesses.

Working for a large company, I was frequently asked by sales managers to keep an eye out for anything the competition did badly, and to let them know. This was all great ammunition for the sales team, I was told.

Were they interested in what the competition was doing well? Never. If I’d told them, I’d have seen mature adults sticking fingers in their ears and saying: “Na na na, not listening”. Yet they’d be the first to waffle on about being a customer-driven company. Customer-driven, that is, so long as the customer’s priorities didn’t include anything the opposition provided better.

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